“I have never experienced an author like this,” huffed Elizabeth Sheinkman, the literary agent to Bergdorf Blondes author Plum Sykes-at least, she said, until she was fired recently via voicemail.
Ms. Sheinkman, who made two book deals for Ms. Sykes with Miramax Books totaling over $2 million, said it came as a shock when she received a voicemail from Ms. Sykes in which she dropped the agent because she was dissatisfied with a third deal, a movie deal, that Ms. Sheinkman had brokered with Miramax.
When Ms. Sheinkman made the deal with Miramax Books to buy Ms. Sykes’ novel, Bergdorf Blondes, she said she and Ms. Sykes agreed to wait to sell the film rights until the book was completed. So upon delivery of the book early this year, Ms. Sheinkman started looking around for a co-agent, a film agent, to shop the book to Hollywood producers.
“[CAA agent] Shari Smiley made a broad submission in Hollywood to major studios and consulted with Plum and me-we had a conference call to brainstorm about the list of potentially interested producers, studios, etc. And Shari made that submission in earnest, and Miramax seemed quite close, actually, but the book was turned down by most of the people on the list in Hollywood,” said Ms. Sheinkman.
Around the time of her New York book party on Tuesday, April 13, the same week Bergdorf Blondes hit the best-seller list, Ms. Sheinkman said Ms. Sykes started to get antsy about not yet having a film deal. She said Ms. Sykes was planning a trip to Los Angeles the following week to find new film representation because she wasn’t satisfied with the job Ms. Smiley was doing.
“She had basically decided that she wanted to meet with CAA in person when she was there, but she also decided that she also wanted to meet with a handful of other Hollywood co-agents, and it was clear that she was not happy with CAA,” said Ms. Sheinkman. Her former literary agent said Ms. Sykes contacted CAA partner Bryan Lourd to have a private meeting with him, as well as Jim Wyatt, the head of William Morris, and Howie Sanders, the head of UTA, among other agencies.
“I heard she was calling these people and she hadn’t even told me,” said Ms. Sheinkman. “I offered to set up these meetings for her and figured she could decide if it doesn’t go well. When I heard she called Jim Wyatt, I was surprised because we don’t co-agent with [William Morris].”
Around the same time, the day after the book party in New York, Ms. Sheinkman said she got a call from Miramax vice president Charles Layton, who surprised her.
“‘Harvey’s seen the light,’” Ms. Sheinkman remembers him saying. “‘He’s really interested in film rights.’”
At that point, Ms. Sheinkman said she was pleased but initially skeptical, because Miramax had been tentative in making an offer. But when Miramax said they would make an offer on the spot, she said, she knew they were serious. Since she wasn’t a film agent and knew Ms. Sykes was looking for new film representation the following week in L.A., she asked if she could postpone accepting an offer another week. They agreed on a deal in which Miramax would make an offer within 24 hours of Ms. Sykes finding a film agent, and then they would give her five days to accept, at the end of which both parties had the right to walk away.
A source familiar with the situation said those five days have since been extended because Ms. Sykes is submitting her book to other producers.
The two spoke while in L.A., but didn’t attend any meetings together. The day after she returned from the trip, Ms. Sheinkman said she got another cell-phone message from Ms. Sykes, this one the last.
“She said, ‘You’ve done a brilliant job on my book deal, but I regret that I was forced to sign that agreement with Miramax.’ I wasn’t even there when she signed that agreement. We both agreed beforehand that a pre-emptive deal was a good idea. She went on and said, ‘I realize now that was a huge mistake for me to sign that agreement with Miramax. I feel unhappy with the way the film-rights stuff and the CAA stuff turned out, so I think I should find another agent.’”
Ms. Sykes was promoting her book in London and wouldn’t comment on her relationship with her former agent, but her publicist at Miramax Books, Hillary Bass, confirmed that Ms. Sykes was no longer working with Ms. Sheinkman.
“I feel completely satisfied with the two book deals I made for her, and if I can’t make an author happy making over $2 million in book deals for them before their book even comes out, I don’t know what I can do,” Ms. Sheinkman complained.
Ms. Smiley and her cohorts at CAA were unaware that Ms. Sykes was unsatisfied with their representation.
“We’ve had correspondence with [Ms. Sykes] and she said she had decided to go elsewhere, but there were notes that were passed back and forth, nice notes, invitations to her book parties,” said Wendy Smith, a CAA spokeswoman. “The fact that she was not happy was news to the people she worked with here, and they had made submissions of the book to producers, and I think she fired them before they had any chance to get any response.”
Ms. Sheinkman said she will still get the commission on the deals she sold.
Ms. Bass said Ms. Sykes has chosen Janklow & Nesbit Associates to be her new literary agency.
The Singing Food Critic
Guests who attended the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research benefit at the Four Seasons restaurant paused in their steps on the way to the buffet in the kitchen. At the yearly benefit, which draws the likes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Steve Schwartzman, Wilbur Ross and Regis Philbin, guests file out of the Grill Room into the kitchen and load their plates with food from long buffet tables there. On the kitchen wall was what appeared to be a larger-than-life poster whose caption read, “The New New York Times Food Critic,” leading many to believe that the face on the poster was that of new Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni.
Guests presumed chattily that the managers had put the picture on the wall so chefs and waiters would recognize Mr. Bruni’s face-hardly a well-known one as yet-when he came in to sample the Four Seasons’ fare.
Mr. Bruni, the former Rome bureau chief at The Times, took the job in April after The Times reportedly made offers to writer Jay McInerney, author Bill Buford and former television critic Julian Barnes, prompting some to conclude that The Times’ efforts to pull in a boldface name to review restaurants had ended in a draw.
But when The Transom asked co-owner Julian Niccolini whether he had a poster of Frank Bruni up on his kitchen wall, he laughed:
“Who is he anyway?” Mr. Niccolini asked.
In fact, harried Four Seasons staffers hoping to pick Mr. Bruni out of the lunchtime crowd using the poster as a crib would go astray, he said.
“Somebody from The New York Times sent me a picture of Placido Domingo,” he said. “It was a picture of Placido Domingo and said ‘The new New York Times food critic.’”
He said that when Ruth Reichl first became the food critic, all the chefs passed around her picture.
“It happened to be in everybody’s kitchen,” he said, “so this one was a joke.”
Although Jessica Simpson probably wishes she’d opted for StarKist brand tuna instead of Chicken of the Sea, her infamous culinary quandaries (Buffalo wings, anyone?) are finally paying off. Hershey’s has signed the pop star and her actress sister Ashlee as spokeswomen for their new Ice Breakers breath mint, Liquid Ice. The campaign for the fluid-filled capsules asks, “Is it liquid or is it ice?”
It was both on the morning of May 17, when the Simpson girls were scheduled for a press conference touting the new breath freshener. Ice sculptures dripped as the proceedings were delayed for over two hours because the helicopter chartered to fly the songbird in from J.F.K. was canceled due to fog.
Once the girls found a driver to bring them in, they gamely posed with the product, flashing teeth as sparkly as their diaphanous camisoles.
“They’re our favorite for makeout sessions!” Jessica proclaimed.
“Which I don’t have!” Ashlee coyly interjected.
Jessica knocked the teeth out of that coy rejoinder.
“Every day it’s another guy!” she said of her sister.
We’ll see for ourselves when Ashlee Simpson’s reality show premieres on MTV this summer.
“You see her break hearts, you see her heart get broken. She doesn’t take any of my dating advice-she’s too stubborn for that!” laughed Jessica before admitting, “I don’t have good dating advice because I’m the marryin’ kind of girl anyway, so any guy I’ve ever wanted to date I wanted to marry.”
Ashlee may be following in Jessica’s well-heeled footsteps with an upcoming reality series and album, but like Nicky Hilton and Mary-Kate Olsen before her, she has distanced herself from her sister by darkening her blonde tresses.
“I finished 7th Heaven and I’d had the same damn hairstyle for two seasons, so I took the Clairol bottle and just poured it on my head!” Ashlee said, adding that family members were pleasantly surprised by the sooty new hue.
“It really works with her music, too,” said Jessica seriously. But not with Jessica’s acting career, she assured The Transom. “I like being blond. It’s my way to flirt. It lets you get away with more.”
That wasn’t the case last week when the bubbly star found herself being berated by a bouncer at the Los Angeles club Nacionale. “Somebody in my entourage was picked up by the neck and thrown out, and I went to save the day, and the security guard was yelling things out that were not true, and it really upset me,” she said. “I cried a lot, a lot, a lot, and then Nick [Lachey, her husband] came to my rescue!”
Several days before, her chivalrous hubby also saved a Houston high-school senior from utter humiliation. Seventeen-year-old Lauren Stipp of Woodlands High School won Seventeen magazine and JC Penney’s “Rock Your Prom” contest, the grand prize of which included a serenade from the former 98 Degrees singer. Too bad no one bothered to inform Mr. Lachey.
“Nick went to prom yesterday!” Jessica crowed. “There was some contest, and Nick hadn’t actually agreed to it. Somebody agreed to it for him and he didn’t want to let the girl down, so he went anyway.”
Jessica was touring for most of her senior year (she began dating her hubby at age 18, when she was the opening for 98 Degrees), so the pair never made it to the big dance together. But Jessica was no prom virgin.
“I went to prom, like, three years in a row. I had the older guy, yeah-even if I didn’t like him, I’d make him like me so I could go!” she exclaimed.
Sirio and Daniel Make Up
On Monday, May 10, Nina Griscom and James Beard Foundation head Len Pickell hosted a lunch at Le Cirque in honor of the restaurant’s owner Sirio Maccioni’s new book, Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque.
Twenty Le Cirque alumni chefs filed into the brightly colored Madison Avenue institution at noon, sitting down together at a long banquette in the red dining room on the first floor for a four-course meal that lasted until late afternoon.
The book’s co-author, Bloomberg food critic Peter Elliot, said it was the first time Mr. Maccioni and his former business partner, Daniel Boulud, had reconciled since their feud in 1993, when Mr. Boulud left Le Cirque to start his own restaurant, Daniel. “Everyone was looking at them,” said Mr. Elliot of the pair, who sat two seats away from each other at a table with Jacques Torres, Sottha Khunn, Geoffrey Zakarian, Michael Lomonaco, Rick Moonen, Alain Sailhac and Dieter Schorner.
“They were like father and son,” said Mr. Elliot.
“They had seen each other in passing before, and everybody in that room had tried to get them to be cordial to each other in the past-and yesterday, it happened,” he added in a later interview with The Transom.
Mr. Elliot devoted an entire chapter in the book to Mr. Maccioni and Mr. Boulud’s split.
“When Daniel went off to do his own restaurant, to become who he is, it was a very painful split,” Mr. Elliot said. “You can’t work that intensely with someone for seven years and not be emotional about it. It was very dramatic and painful for both of them-not one more than another. But Sirio’s Italian, and he takes it very personally. Sirio was caught off guard. But yesterday, they were really friendly.”
At the end of the meal, each guest received a gift bag with a water gun-a reminder, Mr. Elliot said, of the days when kitchen slaves at Le Cirque were deciding whether to shoot Mr. Maccioni or themselves; fake $100 bills that Mr. Elliot said were for overdue pay; and an apron with the words “I Survived Sirio” printed across the front.
“They should be very happy to survive me,” Mr. Maccioni quipped. “I survived them.”
Tony Randall Remembered
“When you’re lucky enough to have a job like mine, every once in a while you get to work with somebody you’ve admired your whole life,” said Rob Burnett, executive producer at The Late Show with David Letterman, the day after actor Tony Randall died at the age of 84. “And for me, Tony was the example of that.”
He should know: The comic actor was the rare kind of guy who didn’t bat an eye or lose his grip on his own idiosyncratic sense of humor around Mr. Letterman in his more than 100 appearances on the show.
“When he came here he was game for anything, and he made our jobs better,” Mr. Burnett said. “He was our go-to guy.”
Mr. Randall died on Monday, May 17, from an infection contracted during a hospital stay after heart-bypass surgery performed in December. Most New Yorkers will know him as finicky Felix Unger, the effete neatnik of TV’s The Odd Couple, in which he played opposite sloppy sports reporter Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) as post-divorce roommates.
But to the smart set of Manhattan, Mr. Randall was the eccentric gentleman about town.
“He used to always come in with a hand fan,” said Elaine Kaufman of the eponymously famous Elaine’s restaurant. “There’s no one in New York he didn’t know.”
Mr. Burnett remembered that around the time of the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, the Letterman show did a gag about the infamous festival that featured Mr. Randall in an unlikely role as a mud-rolling, free-loving hippie.
“He was dressed like an 18-year-old, and we covered him head to toe in mud,” said Mr. Burnett. “The look on his face was priceless.”